Surprises in the works I think

to AIA C.O.T.E. Forum 12/01/06


I’m really delighted to be among a group of idealists, and to hear the frustration with the efforts that fall short and the failure of many people to reach high enough in setting their goals. We definitely need more of that, for all the reasons of our not doing enough, and also for a special reason. I think we’re getting huge help in changing the world from Mother Nature, and we should probably consider, seriously, the need at some point to ramp up faster than expected in delivering coherent ideas and methods to others.

Sometimes things collapse of their own contradictions, like the Soviet Union, and the NeoCon revenge. I think what the sustainability movement sees as unassailable enemies, like the economic forces of endless selfish growth, could more or less abruptly loose their credibility and collapse around us. There are lots and lots of signs, things like the large amount of ‘red’ money going into buying ‘green’ design. It’s easy to think it’s all for show, but it’s also because the people who run exploitive businesses see the writing on the wall and feel real guilty about their involvement.

I find signs of deep change all over, including things like a neat study I threw together a couple weeks ago on the use of the word ’sustainability’ in the NY Times over the past 10 years. It displays a ‘popcorn’ like series of 15 intense flurries of reports, I think mostly displaying people pushing the conceptual limits in a new subject, each lasting 2-5 months, that seems to average out as a underlying long term exponential growth trend. []

All living things begin with exponential growth but it is practically the most unsustainable thing any living system does. Some of you probably know that the best straight line mathematical approximation of a growth curve is a vertical line drawn at whatever time you ask the question. In one way or another growth always hits a wall.

The world professional consensus that explosive consumption growth can continue forever, on the other hand, displays an absolutely remarkable degree of general misunderstanding. What happens in nature that lets living systems survive their growth phase? It’s rather obviously that at the turning point the growth mechanisms give way and are replaced by sustainable ones. It’s natural.

You’d be quite right to say human culture is not at all ready for it! It would be a total surprise. There’s little doubt, though, the world is at the 500 year turning point in the growth of modern civilization, and the pressing choices to either change or destroy what we care about seem to be showing up all over.

Going back to the discussion of the past day or so, I do also think that one of the little ‘pacts with the devil’ the sustainability movement has made is inviting people into it who measure their values with numbers. Measures, to me, have no values at all and are quite useless unless they draw your attention to the things being measured. The positive side is that people who represent things with numbers are exactly the people we need to teach how to read the world in all it’s living complexity.

They may have come to it for other reasons, but having them show up asking for help because of the product ’sustainability’ has to offer is very interesting. I think the idealists should really welcome them and try to learn how to communicate, and that LEED and similar holistic thinking tools with good hooks are a great help for doing so!



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